One of the greatest hitters in baseball history turns 74 today.
Rod Carew won seven batting titles in 19 big-league seasons. He hit over .300 in 15 straight years, from 1969 to 1983. Possessing a silky swing and uncanny hand-eye coordination, Carew led the American League in hits three times and twice topped the circuit in triples. Carew collected 3,053 career hits and retired with a .328 lifetime batting average. Among players who entered the league after World War II, only Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn posted a higher career average.
Rod Carew was the definition of a batting champion. He won more batting titles than Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, George Brett or Pete Rose. Only Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, and Honus Wagner have more. From a crouched stance, the left-handed-hitting Carew had a keen eye and used the entire field. He collected 200 or more hits in four seasons and led the AL in intentional walks three times.
Carew had no weaknesses as a hitter. He swings with the pitch, that’s why he’s so great. He has no holes. – Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter
On October 1, 1945, Carew’s mother and father were traveling by train from their home in Gatun, Panama, to Georges Hospital in Ancon — a 40-mile trip. Olga Carew went into labor in the rear coach, sending the conductor in search of a doctor. Dr. Rodney Cline rushed to the laboring mother, assisted by a nurse by the name of Margaret Allen. In honor of the doctor, Olga and her husband named the child Rodney Cline Carew. For her efforts, Margaret Allen was asked to be Rod’s godmother.
Assisted by Margaret Allen, Carew and his family immigrated to the United States when the boy was 14. They settled in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan. Carew attended George Washington High School, alma mater of baseball’s Manny Ramirez and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, but he didn’t play on the school baseball team. Instead, he joined a sandlot squad, where he was discovered in 1964 by a Minnesota Twins scout whose son was also on the team. When the Twins came to New York to play the Yankees, a tryout was arranged. Carew so impressed the Twins brass that he was offered a $5,000 bonus and $400 per month to sign, then reported the club’s Rookie League affiliate in Cocoa, Florida.
Carew broke in as the Twins everyday second baseman in 1967. He batted .292, was elected to the first of 18 consecutive All-Star Game appearances and was named American League Rookie of the Year. The sweet-swinging Panamanian won his first batting title in 1969, hitting .332 while helping Minnesota win the inaugural AL West crown. In 1974, Carew joined Cobb as the only players to have led the majors in batting average three consecutive seasons.
Carew won the American League batting title in every year but one between 1972 and 1978. In 1976, he hit .331 and was nosed out for the crown by George Brett, who finished at .333.
Carew enjoyed his best season in 1977. During his quest to bat .400, he appeared on the covers of Time and Sports Illustrated the week of July 18. It was a mark that had not been reached since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. Carew finished the season at .388 to win his sixth batting title. He also led the league in OBP, OPS, OPS-plus, runs, hits, triples, and intentional walks to easily earn the 1977 AL MVP Award.
Carew was traded to the California Angels in 1979, where he continued as one of the greatest hitters of his generation. Although he did not win a batting crown after 1978, he hit between .305 and .339 from 1979 to 1983. Carew led the Halos to the first two AL West titles in franchise history. In August 1985, he singled off Twins left-hander Frank Viola to become just the 16th player in MLB history to record his 3,000th hit.
The 1977 Roberto Clemente Award recipient hit only 92 home runs in his career, but belted 445 doubles, 112 triples and stole 353 bases. Batting at or near the top of the order, Carew drove in 1,015 runs and struck out fewer than 50 times in ten of his 19 major league campaigns. Following his retirement as a player at the end of the 1985 season, Carew served as the Angels hitting coach for nine years, then two more with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Rod Carew could move the bat around as if it were a magic wand. – Ken Holtzman, a three-time World Series champion who threw two career no-hitters.
In 1998, Carew met Konrad Rueland, a sixth-grader who attended school with the former big leaguer’s children. Rueland grew to 6’5, 254, and went on to play football at Notre Dame and then Stanford as a tight end. He signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, then played with the Jets, Ravens, and Colts. Rueland suffered a brain aneurysm November 28, 2016, and died two weeks later.
Rod Carew suffered a massive heart attack in 2015, and doctors told him he needed a new heart. The Hall of Famer recovered sufficiently to be an instructor in Twins 2016 spring training, where he launched Heart of 29, a fund-raising campaign benefiting the American Heart Association. On December 15, 2016, the 71-year-old Carew received the transplanted heart and left kidney of Konrad Rueland, who had passed at 29.
The incomparable Rod Carew was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, where he became the 27th player in history to be elected in his first year of eligibility. He was also the first Panamanian player elected. In 1975, Mr. Carew received the Order of Vasco de Balboa, Panama’s highest civilian award. He was the first athlete so honored. Rodney Cline Carew had his No. 29 retired by both the Minnesota Twins and California Angels.